Government funding and delivery of social services increasingly fails to meet citizens’ demands. One theory is that charities alleviate this pressure by delivering services to supplement those that governments provide (Weisbrod, 1988). When the government and market fail to meet social needs, these services are funded by donations and service charges. A second theory is that charities partner with government to fund and deliver complementary services (Salamon, 1987). This article analyses the historical choices made by New Zealand’s government and charities relating to social services funding and delivery. Charities have not responded solely to what Weisbrod (1988) calls government failure, nor have they entered into continuous partnerships with government as Salamon (1987) would suggest. Instead, funding choices appear to be mutable, placing charities and beneficiaries in precarious positions when social services funding reduces. This article encourages debate about how social services should be funded: by government, charities or the marketplace.